The national board of Beta Theta Pi has announced that it will be suspending and indefinitely dissolving its Auburn chapter [link courtesy of the ever-awesome Max] in response to the fracas over racist hate imagery at the local chapter’s Halloween party. Delta Sigma Phi’s Auburn chapter remains under investigation for possible further action by their national board. In addition, individual members and both chapters may face disciplinary proceedings by the University for discriminatory harassment and violation of alcohol policies.
I should say this. I have been really sharply rhetorical so far in my stories and discussions of this most recent incident. I think the callous, racist cruelty and the horrifying nature of the images demands it. But I do want to say that I am not blind to the human element of this whole event, and it saddens me that many young men’s lives may be permanently knocked back, as a result of what they surely thought of not as racism or any kind of conscious malice, but just a lark, a stupid good time.
I don’t just say this because I know people in the Auburn fraternity system who are not the sloped-brow, amoral, reactionary meatheads that the Greeks’ history on Auburn’s campus might lead you to believe they would have to be–although this is definitely true; I have friends in the fraternity system who neither have nor want any part of that mindset. I also say it because I really regret that the meatheads that were directly involved will probably never understand just what they did wrong. They will understand that they did some dumb things that got them caught. And they may look back and grumble at the P.C. Thought Police Bastards who ruined their college career. But will they ever understand that there really was a very deep cut of wilful cruelty in what they did? They didn’t put on those costumes in order to be malicious racists (although I believe that there was certainly some overt malice involved). They put them on to have a roguish bit of fun, that old irreverant frat boy panache. Meaningless images of MTV gangstas and some documentary on the Klan they saw in school or on the History channel–trivial, ultimately, like the whole flux of images across our consciousness. Anything can be funny, right? If you don’t really go out and attack Black people, the images don’t mean anything, do they?
But words, images, costumes, historical scripts do mean something; they mean a hell of a lot. The images and rituals, the signs of white supremacist brutality in this country have a meaning, a meaning they are rooted to by centuries of blood and chains. But we live in an age in which the detached image and the spectacle is omnipresent, and yet the prevailing laid-back liberal ideology tells us that we have no reason to care, indeed, that if we do care it’s a sign of pretentiousness, humorlessness, a general need to lighten the hell up. And it’s slowly, surely killing our conscience, eating away at the possibility of being moral agents. Which has what to do with frat boys in Klan robes? I really fear that this soul-killing laid-back liberalism, the impetus behind the costumes in the first place, will also cripple the boys at Beta and Delta Sig from ever understanding what they did wrong, the cutting cruelty that they were willing to ignore in order to have a laugh. Just as much as their hate party outrages me against them, what it means also saddens me for them.
Nevertheless, I don’t hesitate to say that they must receive the harshest sanctions from the University, and I maintain that the fraternity system as a whole must be re-examined and challenged for the rather disgusting and reactionary culture that it helps maintain. I firmly believe that every time a frat house is bulldozed, an angel gets its wings.